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Titulus Regius, was an Act of Parliament passed during Richard III's one and only parliament held in 1484 setting out the details of his claim to the throne.

It is generally accepted that Titulus Regius incorporates the text of the petition presented by the Duke of Buckingham to the assembly of the Lords and Commons which met on the 25th June 1483 at the Guildhall in London and which was presented to, and accepted by, Richard Duke of Gloucester on the following day, from which date he thereafter considered to be the beginning of his reign as Richard III.

Titulus Regius makes a number of claims (as considered below) the primary one being that Edward IV's childen were illegitimate. As it was the intention of Henry VII to marry Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV and thereby 'unite' the divided houses of York and Lancaster, he did not want any doubts expressed regarding his future wife's status; the Act was therefore repealed and Henry ordered all copies of Titulus Regius destroyed. The text has only survived because it was copied into a work known as the Croyland Chronicle; one single copy of the Croyland Chronicle survived and was discovered in 1619 by Sir George Buck1 and used as one of the sources for his The History of King Richard III one of the earliest works that sought to defend the character of Richard III.

The Contents of Titulus Regius

The Act refers to "the ungracious pretensed marriage ... made betwitx the said King Edward IV and Elizabeth, sometyme wife to Sir John Grey, Knight, late nameing herself and many years heretofore Queene of England" which was itself the result of "sorcerie and wiche-crafte, committed by the said Elizabeth and her moder, Jacquett Duchess of Bedford". As a result of this unnatural alliance "this land was ruled by self-will and pleasure, feare and drede, all manner of equite and lawes layd apart and despised, whereof ensued many inconvenients and mischiefs, as murdres, estortions, and oppressions, namely of pooe and impotent people, so that no man was sure of his lif... etc" and continues in this vein accounting all the various ills that had befallen the nation since Edward and Elizabeth's marriage.

As it happens Edward IV was generally a popular king and his reign does not appear to have been marked by any great degree of lawlessness and there seems little truth in these statements; they are fairly standard dynastic propoganda.

However the central claim of Titulus Regius is the claim that the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville was invalid. This claim is justified on the grounds that Edward had previously "stood marryed and troth plyght to oone Dame Elianor Butteler, doughter of the old Earl of Shrewsbury, with whom the said King Edward had made a precontracte of matronie, long tyme bifore he made the said pretensed mariage with the said Elizabeth Grey".2

As a consequence of this prior arrangement, "it appeareth evidently and followeth that all th’issue and children of the said king been bastards, and unable to inherite or to clayme anything by inheritance, by the lawe and custome of England." Thereby removing at a stroke both Edward and Richard, Duke of York from the succession.

The Act reminds everyone that "George Duc of Clarence, brother to the said King Edward now decessed, was convicted and attainted of high treason" and that therefore "all the issue of the said George was and is disables and barred of all right and clayme that in any wise they might have or challenge by inheritance to the crowne and roiall dignitie of this reame, by the auncien lawe and custome of this same reame". (As it happens this wasn't strictly true as the Act of Attainder passed only prevented his son Edward, Earl of Warwick from inheriting the dignities of a Duke, and said nothing of the crown. In any case, attainders could, and frequently were, reversed. It was somewhat academic in any event as Edward was only eight at the time, and in no position to challenge his uncle.)

As a direct result of the above it was therefore clear that Richard, Duke of Gloucester was the "undoubted sonne and heire Richard late Duke of Yorke verray enheritour to the said crowne and dignitie roiall and as in right Kyng of Englond by way to enheritaunce".

The substance of the precontract allegation

The nature of the allegation was specifically that Edward had promised to marry Eleanor Butler in return for her sexual favours. Now as far as Canon Law at the time was concerned, when a man promised to marry a woman in return for her agreement to have sex, then that was a precontract, which constituted a valid marriage. As Edward IV was already married to Eleanor Butler, his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid and any children of that marriage illegitimate and therefore excluded from the succession.

The French diplomat Philippe de Commines was later to name the source of the allegation as the Bishop of Bath and Wells, one Robert Sillington, who was imprisoned by Edward IV in 1478 and was therefore motivated by revenge to invent the tale. There is no corroborating evidence for Robert Sillington as the source, and many doubt that he was; the circumstancial evidence of his life argues against it.

But whatever the source (if any) of the allegation, at the the time it was made both parties to the 'precontract' were dead; no evidence was produced at the time to support the allegation and none has been produced since. It has nevertheless been seized upon by modern Ricardians as 'evidence' of the validity of Richard III's claim to the throne.

As far as less partisan commentators are concerned, it has been noted how convenient it was that these 'facts' came to light just at the opportune moment for Richard; on the other hand, Edward IV was a fairly notorious serial seducer of women and so the allegation was at least believable having regard to the character of the former king.

It is however important to realise that parliament had no jurisdiction in the matter of the validity or otherwise of Edward's marital position, this was entirely a matter of Canon Law and an issue for the ecclesiastical courts. This of course, would have been common knowledge at the time, but in the context of Richard's fairly rapid seizure of power in June 1483 there simply wasn't sufficient time to have the matter considered by the courts. Apart from the fact the ecclesiastical courts were less susceptible to political pressure, and might well have been inclined to take an independent view of the matter. Since Eleanor Butler had died in 1468 before the birth of either of Edward's sons, even if the precontract story had been true, this would have left the status of Edward's sons as somewhat debatable.

Of course, in the end it does not matter tuppence whether or not Richard III was a legitimate king or an usurper, what mattered at the time was what people believed about his claim to the throne. Richard was unable to persuade enough people that his claim was legitimate and unable to prevent Henry Tudor from taking both his crown and his life.


Notes to the above

1 Although John Speed had earlier in 1611 discovered and published a draft of the Act.

2 Note that her maiden name was Elizabeth Woodville, she married a Sir John Grey, and hence is also referred to as Elizabeth Grey.


TITULUS REGIUS

An Act for the Settlement of the Crown upon the King and his Issue, with a recapitulation of his Title.

To the High and Mighty Prince Richard, Duc of Gloucester
Please it youre Noble Grace to understande the consideracon, election, and petition of us the lords spiritual and temporal and commons of this reame of England, and thereunto agreably to geve your assent, to the common and public wele of this lande, to the comforts and gladnesse of all the people of the same.
First, we considre how that heretofore in tyme passed this lande many years stode in great prosperite, honoure, and tranquillite, which was caused, foresomuch as the kings then reignyng used and followed the advice and counsaill of certaine lords speulx and temporelx, and othre personnes of approved sadnesse, prudence, policie, and experience, dreading God, and havyng tendre zele and affection to indifferent ministration of justice, and to the comon and politique wele of the land; then our Lord God was dred, luffed, and honoured; then within the land was peace and tranquillite, and among neghbors concorde and charite; then the malice of outward enemyes was mightily repressed and resisted, and the land honourably defended with many grete and glorious victories; then the entrecourse of merchandizes was largely used and exercised; by ehich things above remembered, the land was greatly enriched soo that as wele the merchants and artificers as other poor people, laboryng for their lyvyng in diverse occupations, had competent gayne to the sustentation of thaym and their households, livyng without miserable and intolerable povertie. But afterward, when that such as had the rule and governaunce of this land, deliting in adulation and flattery and lede by sensuality and concupiscence, followed the counsaill of persons insolent, vicious, and of inordinate avarice, despising the counsaill of good, vertuous, and prudent personnes such as above be remembred, the prosperite of this land dailie decreased soo that felicite was turned into miserie, and prosperite into adversite, and the ordre of polecye, and of the law of God and man, confounded; whereby it is likely this reame to falle into extreme miserie and desolation, - which God defende, - without due provision of convenable remedie bee had in this behalfe in all godly hast.
Over this, amonges other thinges, more specifially we consider howe that the tyme of the raigne of King Edward IV, late decessed, after the ungracious pretensed marriage, as all England hath cause to say, made betwitx the said King Edward IV and Elizabeth, sometyme wife to Sir John Grey, Knight, late nameing herself and many years heretofore Queene of England, the ordre of all politeque rule was perverted, the laws of God and of Gode’s church, and also the lawes of nature, and of England, and also the laudable customes and liberties of the same, wherein every Englishman is inheritor, broken, subverted, and contempned, against all reason and justice, so that this land was ruled by self-will and pleasure, feare and drede, all manner of equite and lawes layd apart and despised, whereof ensued many inconvenients and mischiefs, as murdres, estortions, and oppressions, namely of pooe and impotent people, so that no man was sure of his lif, land, ne lyuvelode, ne of his wif, doughter, no servannt, every good maiden and woman standing in drede to be ravished and defouled. And besides this, what discords, inward battailes, effusion of Christian men’s blode, and namely, by the destruction of the noble blode of this lond, was had and comitted within the same, it is evident and notarie through all this reaume unto the grete sorrowe and heavynesse of all true Englishmen. And here also we considre howe the said pretensed marriage, betwitx the above named King Edward the Elizabeth Grey, was made of grete presumption, without the knowyng or assent of the lords of this londe, and alsoe by sorcerie and wiche-crafte, committed by the said Elizabeth and her moder, Jacquett Duchess of Bedford, as the common opinion of the peole and the publique voice, and fame is through all this land; and hereafter, if and as the case shall require, shall bee proved sufficiently intyme and place convenient. And here also we considre how that the said pretenced marriage was made privately and secretly, with edition of banns, in a private chamber, a profane place, and not openly in the face of the church, aftre the laws of Godd’s churche, but contrarie thereunto, and the laudable custome of the Churche of England. And how also, that at the tyme of the contract of the same pretensed marriage, and bifore and longe tyme after, the saide King Edw was and stood marryed and troth plyght to oone Dame Elianor Butteler, doughter of the old Earl of Shrewsbury, with whom the said King Edward had made a precontracte of matronie, long tyme bifore he made the said pretensed mariage with the said Elizabeth Grey in manner and fourme aforesaid. Which premises being true, as in veray trouth they been true, it appeareth and followeth evidently, that the said King Edward duryng his lyfe and the said Elizabeth lived together sinfully and dampnably in adultery, against the lawe of God and his church; and therefore noe marvaile that the souverain lord and head of this londe, being of such ungodly disposicion, and provokyng the ire and indignation of oure Lorde God, such haynous mischiefs and inconvenients as is above remember, were used and committed in the reame amongst the subjects. Also it appeareth evidently and followeth that all th’issue and children of the said king been bastards, and unable to inherite or to clayme anything by inheritance, by the lawe and custome of England.
Moreover we consider howe that afterward, by the thre estates of this reame assembled in a parliament holden at Westminster the 17th. yere of the regne of the said King Edward the iiiith, he than being in possession of the coroune and roiall estate, by an acte made in the same parliament, George Duc of Clarence, brother to the said King Edward now decessed, was convicted and attainted of high treason; as in the same acte is conteigned more at large. Because and by treason whereof all the issue of the said George was and is disables and barred of all right and clayme that in any wise they might have or challenge by inheritance to the crowne and roiall dignitie of this reame, by the auncien lawe and custome of this same reame.
Over this we consider howe that ye be the undoubted sonne and heire Richard late Duke of Yorke verray enheritour to the said crowne and dignitie roiall and as in right Kyng of England by way to enheritaunce and that at this time the premisses duelly considered there is noon other peron lyving but ye only, that by right may clayme the said coroune and dignitie roiall, by way of enhertiaunce, and how that ye be born within this lande, by reason whereof, as we deme in our myndes, ye be more naturally enclyned to the prosperitie and comen weal of the same: and all the three estates of the land have, and may have more certain knowledge of your birth and filiation above said. Wee considre also, the greate wytte, prudence, justice, princely courage, and the memorable and laudable acts in diverse battalls which we by experience know ye heretofore have done for the salvacion and defence of this same reame, and also the great noblesse and excellence of your byrth and blode as of hym that is descended of the thre most royal houses in Christendom, that is to say, England, Fraunce, and Hispaine.
Wherefore these premisses by us diligently considered, we desyring affectuously the peas, tranquilitie and wele publique of this lande, and the reduction of the same to the auncien honourable estate, and prosperite, and havyng in your greate prudence, justice, princely courage and excellent virtue, singular confidence, have chosen in all that is in us is and by this our wrytyng choise you, high and myghty Prynce into our Kyng and souveraine lord &c., to whom we know for certayn it appertaneth of enheritaunce so to be choosen. And hereupon we humbly desire, pray, and require your said noble grace, that accordinge to this election of us the three estates of this lande, as by your true enheritaunce ye will accept and take upon you the said crowne and royall dignitie with all things thereunto annexed and apperteyning as to you of right belongyng as well by enheritaunce as by lawful election, and in case ye do so we promitte to serve and to assist your highnesse, as true and faithfull subjietz and liegemen and to lyve and dye with you in this matter and every other just quarrel. For certainly we bee determined rather to adventure and comitte us to the perill of our lyfs and jopardye of death, than to lyve in such thraldome and bondage as we have lyved long tyme heretofore, oppressed and injured by new extorcos and imposicons, agenst the lawes of God and man, and the liberte, old polce and lawes of this reame wherein every Englishman is inherited. Our Lorde God Kyng of all Kynges by whose infynyte goodnesse and eternall providence all thyngs have been pryncypally gouverned in this worlde lighten your soule, and graunt you grace to do, as well in this matter as in all other, all that may be accordyng to his will and pleasure, and to the comen and publique wele of this land, so that after great cloudes, troubles, stormes, and tempests, the son of justice and of grace may shyne uppon us, to the comforte and gladnesse of all true Englishmen.
Albeit that the right, title, and estate, whiche our souverain lorde the Kynge Richard III hath to and in the crown and roiall dignite of this reame of England, with all things thereunto annexed and appertynyng, have been juste and lawefull, as grounded upon the lawes of God and of nature and also upon the auncien lawes and laudable customes of this said reame, and so taken and reputeed by all such personnes as ben lerned in the above-saide laws and custumes. Yet, neverthelesse, forasmoche as it is considred that the most parte of the people of this lande is not suffisiantly lerned in the abovesaid lawes and customes whereby the trueth and right in this behalf of liklyhode may be hyd, and not clerely knowen to all the people and thereupon put in doubt and question: And over this howe that the courte of Parliament is of suche autorite, and the people of this lande of suche nature and disposicion, as experience teacheth that maifestation and declaration of any trueth or right made by the thre estats of this reame assembled in parliament, and by auctorite of the same maketh before all other thyng, moost faith and certaintie; and quietyng men’s myndes, remoweth the occasion of all doubts and seditious language:
Therefore at the request, and by the assent of the three estates of this reame, that is to say, the lords spuelx and temporalx and comens of this lande, assembled in this present parliament by auctorite of the same, bee it pronounced, decreed and declared, that our said souveraign lorde the kinge was and is veray and undoubted kyng of this reame of England; with all thyngs thereunto within this same reame, and without it annexed unite and apperteynyng, as well by right of consanguinite and enheritance as by lawful election, consecration and coronacion. And over this, that at the request, and by the assent and autorite abovesaide bee it ordeigned, enacted and established that the said crowne and roiall dignite of this reame, and the inheritaunce of the same, and other thyngs thereunto within the same reame or without it annexed, unite, and now apperteigning, rest and abyde in the person of our said souveraign lord the kyng during his lyfe, and after his decesse in his heires of his body begotten. And in especiall, at the request and by the assent and auctorite abovesaid, bee it ordeigned, enacted, established, pronounced, decreed and declared that the high and excellent Prince Edward, sone of our said souveraign lorde the Kyng, be heire apparent of our said souveraign lorde the kyng, to succeed hym in the abovesaid crown and roiall dignite, with all thyngs as is aforesaid thereunto unite annexed and apperteignyng, to have them after the decease of our saide souveraign lorde the kyng to hym and to his heires of his body lawfully begotten
.

SOURCES

The above text is taken from http://www.richard111.com/titulus_regius.htm which reproduces the text from the Croyland Chronicle

Other sources include
  • http://www.r3.org/bookcase/texts/tit_reg.html - which attempts to reproduce the text in its original orthography (rendering it almost illegible to the modern reader) and includes the preamble from the Croyland Chronicle
  • http://www.nipissingu.ca/department/history/muhlberger/2425/tit_reg.htm - which renders some extracts of the text into more modern English

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